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24 January 2010

Ray Charles - The Down Beat/Swing Time Years (1949 - 1952)

In the Summer of 1948 Ray Charles and his friend, guitar player Gossie McKee, scored the one-to-five-a.m. gig at The Rocking Chair in Seattle, at $45 a night. They pulled in Milton Garred on bass and called their combo The McSon Trio.
In December '48 they had their first meeting with the Californian record boss Jack Lauderdale, of Down Beat Records. In early 1949, but still without a contract, the first recording session was planned in Seattle. Their first single, I Love You, I Love You / Confession Blues, was issued in February '49. Lauderdale had misheard “McSon Trio”, and released the platter as a "Maxin Trio" single.
After a few more single releases, McKee negotiated and signed the first contract with Down Beat on June 11, 1949. Challenged by the magazine with the same title, Down Beat had to change its name, to Swing Time (after first trying out Swing Beat and Swing Records, but these brands only lived for a few months).
Until 1952, when he sold the contract to Atlantic's Ahmet Ertegun, Lauderdale recorded around 40 songs, and released half of that stack as singles.
"Maxin" sometimes morphed into "Maxine" or "Maxim", the improvised Seattle studio was replaced by professional studios in Los Angeles, Garred was phased out at later recording sessions, and soon session musicians helped Ray Charles to shape his sound "with Orchestra".
Of four tunes, most probably taped in 1952, in Miami, the initial ownership is vague (two of them were first issued on the Sittin' In With label).

The corpus of Ray Charles' "Early Years" tunes probably belongs to the most abused in the history of popular music. Soon after Swing Time folded (in 1953), the masters and a huge stack of acetate copies of alternate takes were sold and resold to several owners. From then on, until the day of today, much in the tradition of Jack Lauderdale himself, nobody releasing fantasy selections from these materials felt inclined to ever pay anyone who had ever been involved in making this music - composers nor lyricists, singers nor musicians.
The first time that a selection was released on an album, was in the early 1960s, when Ray's popularity skyrocketed (e.g. see the 1962 Billboard clipping below). Since then literally hundreds of albums have been released, every time recycling content from the same materials. Often under misleading titles. Often using umptieth generation copies. Often mistreating source materials (e.g. by adding organ sounds, or even adding 'live' audience sounds). Often misnaming song titles, or their authors. Rarely offering decent liner notes.

The cliché about this period is that Ray was merely an imitator (of Nat King Cole and Charles Brown), and was still searching for "his own voice", but the truth is that - although these influences can't be disputed - his voice and his piano playing were damn good, and unmistakable his as of the first recording. And he scored three hits from a handful of singles.

The data in the list of tunes below are based on the best possible sources, but most every fact can be (and frequently is) disputed. Furthermore, I've left out information about alternate and rehearsal takes.

We sure need a definitive discography!


COMPILATIONS
Thank God, there also are a few compilations, where music lovers took the trouble to present Ray's "early years" legacy in much more decent ways. The Way I Feel (see below) offers by far the best selection of the Down Beat/Swing Time years, with the best liner notes. Over the years smaller and bigger sets of alternate and rehearsal tapes and acetates have emerged. An audiophile reconstruction that I liked is Early Years - Ray Charles: Unreleased (see below). But be aware that there's more - a big collection of acetates with never released alternate takes was put up for sale on Ebay only a few years ago, and is now in the hands of a private collector.

01. The Way I Feel (1949 - 1956)
From Billboard, 12 May 1962.


This 4-CD box set contains all of Ray Charles' recordings (inc. rehearsal takes) between 1949 and 1956, i.e. all the Down Beat/Swing Time records and the early Atlantic* cuttings. Apart from the great set of early photos (cf. the two at the top of this article that were, as far as I know, not re-published anywhere for many decades - not even in their original B/W versions) the booklet that comes with the box also contains precious session details (compiled by Joel Dufour), that are even more complete than the liner notes to the Unreleased and Pure Genius compilations. Proper, 22 Oct 2007. * Not relevant in the context of this article, but below I'll quote the Atlantic tunes anyhow.

Disc 1 
  1. I Love You, I Love You (I Will Never Let You Go)
  2. Confession Blues
  3. Alone In the City
  4. Can Anyone Ask For More 
  5. Here I Am
  6. Rockin' Chair Blues
  7. If I Give You My Love
  8. Can't You See, Darling 
  9. This Love Of Mine
  10. Blues Before Sunrise
  11. How Long Blues
  12. A Sentimental Blues
  13. You'll Never Miss The Water (Until The Well Runs Dry) 
  14. Ain't That Fine
  15. Don't Put All Your Dreams In One Basket 
  16. Sitting On Top
  17. I've Had My Fun (Going Down Slow)
  18. See See Rider
  19. What Have I Done?
  20. Honey, Honey
  21. She's On the Ball
  22. The Ego Song 
  23. Late In The Evening Blues 
  24. Someday
  25. I'll Do Anything But Work
  26. I Wonder Who's Kissing Her Now?
  27. All To Myself
#1 - 9: The Maxin Trio: Ray Charles, voc, p; Gosady McKee, g; Milton S.Garred, b.- Seattle, February 1949. #10 - 15: The Maxim Trio: Ray Charles, voc, p; Gosady McKee or Mitchell “Tiny” Webb, g; Ralph Hamilton, b.- Los Angeles, 1949. #16 - 21: Ray Charles Trio: Ray Charles, voc, p; Gosady Mckee, g; Milton S.Garred, b. - Los Angeles, 1950. #22 - 25: Ray Charles with Orchestra: Ray Charles, voc, p; Teddy Buckner, tp; Marshall Royal, as; Jack McVea, ts; Charles Waller, bs; Louis Speiginer, g; Billy Hadnott, b; Clifton “Rudy” Pitts, d; Le Roy “Snake” White, arr. - Los Angeles, May 26, 1950. #26 - 27: Ray Charles Trio: Ray Charles, voc, p; cel, Oscar Moore, g: Johnny Miller, b.- Los Angeles, November 24, 1950.

Disc 2 
  1. All To Myself
  2. Lonely Boy
  3. Baby, Let Me Hold Your Hand
  4. I'm Glad For Your Sake 
  5. Baby, Won't You Please Come Home 
  6. Kissa Me Baby
  7. Hey Now
  8. The Snow Is Falling
  9. Misery In My Heart
  10. Let Me Hear You Call My Name
  11. I Can't Do No More
  12. I'm Wonderin' And Wonderin'
  13. Walkin' And Talkin'
  14. Guitar Blues
  15. Roly Poly
  16. The Sun's Gonna Shine Again
  17. Roll With Me Baby
  18. The Midnight Hour
  19. Jumpin' In The Mornin' 
  20. Worried Life Blues (Someday Baby)
  21. Low Society
  22. It Should've Been Me
  23. Losing Hand
  24. Heartbreaker
  25. Sinner's Prayer
#1 - 3: Ray Charles Trio: Ray Charles, voc, p; cel (-1); Oscar Moore, g; Johnny Miller, b.- Los Angeles, November 24, 1950. #4 - 6: Ray Charles: Ray Charles, voc, p; Unknown, g, b, d; Sy Oliver, arr. - Los Angeles, 1951. #7 - 10: Ray Charles with Orchestra: Ray Charles, voc, p; arr; Billy Brooks, Fleming Askew, tp; Marshall Royal, Earl Brown, as; Stanley Turrentine, Maurice Simon, ts; Charles Waller, bs; Frank McClure, b; Eddie Pipper, d. - Los Angeles 1951. #11 - 14: Ray Charles: Ray Charles, voc, p; possibly Gosady McKee, g; Otto McQueen, b; Manzy Harris, d. - Miami(?), 1951.
#15 - 16: Ray Charles, p (?), Rufus Beacham, p; Jack McVea, ts. Unknown, g; d. Ray Charles’ piano playing on these tracks is doubtful. I Can’t Do No More was originally released as Ray Charles with Rufus Beacham’s Orchestra on the Sittin’ In With label, SIW 651. Its flip side, an instrumental titled Roly Poly was released under pianist and band leader Rufus Beacham’s name. Roly Poly was subsequently released as Back Home under Ray Charles’ name (together with I Can’t Do No More, on all subsequent re-issues. During a March 4, 1989 interview, Ray Charles expert Joel Dufour played the track to Ray who did not recognize the piano playing, and said that the name of Rufus Beacham did not ring any bells to him. Finally, the original label for Guitar Blues credits “Ray Charles on guitar”. To anyone’s knowledge Ray Charles never played guitar. Jean Francois Villetard, the compiler of this set, suspects that this is another track by Rufus Beacham’s Orchestra, probably from the same session as Roly Poly - Los Angeles, 1952. #17 - 20: Ray Charles: Ray Charles, voc, p; possibly Jesse Drakes, tp; Sam “The Man” Taylor, ts; Dave McRae, bs; Lloyd Trotman, b; Connie Kay, d; Jesse Stone, arr. - New York, September 11, 1952. #21 - 22: Ray Charles rehearsal session: Ray Charles, voc, p. - New York, May 10, 1953. #23 - 26: Ray Charles: Ray Charles, voc, p; Jesse Drakes, tp; Sam “The Man Taylor, ts; Dave McRae, bs; Mickey Baker, g; Lloyd Trotman, b; Connie Kay, d; Candido Cameron , aga; Jesse Stone, arr, voc - New York, May 17, 1953.

Disc 3 
  1. Mess Around
  2. Funny (But I Still Love You)
  3. Feelin' Sad
  4. I Wonder Who?
  5. Don't You Know
  6. Nobody Cares
  7. Ray's Blues
  8. I Got a Break, Baby
  9. Blackjack
  10. I Got A Woman 
  11. Greenbacks
  12. Come Back Baby
  13. A Fool For You
  14. This Little Girl Of Mine
  15. Hard Times (No One Knows Better Than I)
  16. Blues Hangover
  17. Mary Ann
  18. Drown In My Own Tears
  19. Hallelujah I Love Her So 
  20. What Would I Do Without You?
  21. Dawn Ray
  22. The Man I Love
  23. Music, Music, Music
  24. Black Coffee
#1 - 2: Ray Charles: Ray Charles, voc, p; Jesse Drakes, tp; Sam “The Man Taylor, ts; Dave McRae, bs; Mickey Baker, g; Lloyd Trotman, b; Connie Kay, d; Candido Cameron , aga (-1); Jesse Stone, arr, voc - New York, May 17, 1953. #3 - 4: Ray Charles with Edgar Blanchard’s Band: Ray Charles, voc, p; arr; Auguste “Dimes” Duont, as; Warren Hebrard, ts; Edgar Blanchard, g; Frank Fields, b; Alonzo Stewart, d.- New Orleans, August 18, 1953. #5 - 8: Ray Charles and his Orchestra: Ray Charles, voc, p, arr; Wallace Davenport, Frank Mitchell, tp; O’Neill Gerald, as; Joe Tillman, ts; Warren Bell, bs; Lloyd Lambert, b; Oscar Moore, d. - New Orleans, December 4, 1953. #9 - 12: Ray Charles: Ray Charles, voc, p, arr; Joe Bridgewater, Charles “Clanky” Whitley, tp; Don Wilkerson, ts; David “Fathead” Newman, bs; Wesley Jackson, g; Jimmy Bell, b; Glenn Brooks, d - Atlanta, November 18, 1954. #13 - 16: Ray Charles: Ray Charles, voc, p; arr; Joe Bridgewater, Riley Webb, tp; Davied “Fathead” Newman, as, bs; Don Wilkerson, ts; Roosevelt “Whiskey” Sheffield, b; Bill Peeples, d; Mary Ann Fisher, backing voc - Miami, April 23, 1955. #17 - 20: Ray Charles: Ray Charles, voc, p, arr; Joe Bridgewater, Joshua “Jack” Willis, tp; Don Wilkerson, ts; Cecil Payne, bs; Paul West, b; David “Panama” Francis, d; The Cookies (Margie Hendrix, Dorothy Jones, Ethel “Darlene” McRae, unknown male, backing voc. - New York, November 30, 1955. #21 - 24: Ray Charles: Ray Charles, p; Oscar Pettiford, b; Joe Harris, d.- New York, April 30, 1956.

Disc 4 
  1. Lonely Avenue
  2. I Want To Know
  3. Leave My Woman Alone
  4. The Ray
  5. I Surrender Dear
  6. Hornful Soul
  7. Ain't Misbehavin'
  8. Joy Ride
  9. Sweet Sixteen Bars
  10. Doodlin', Pts 1 & 2 
  11. There's No You
  12. Undecided
  13. My Melancholy Baby
  14. It's All Right
  15. Ain't That Love
  16. Get On the Right Track, Baby
  17. Rockhouse, Pts 1 & 2
#1 - 3: Ray Charles: Ray Charles, voc, p; arr; Joe Bridgewater, John Hunt, tp; David “Fathead” Newman, as, ts; Emmett Dennis, bs; Roosevelt “Whiskey” Sheffield, b; Bill Peeples, d; The Cookies (Margie Hendrix, Dorothy Jones, Ethel “Darlene” McRae), backing voc. - New York, May 16, 1956. #4 - 9: Ray Charles: Ray Charles, p, cel; Joe Bridgewater, John Hunt, tp; David “Fathead” Newman, as, ts; Emmett Dennis, bs; Roosevelt “Whiskey” Sheffield, b; Bill Peeples, d; Quincy Jones, arr. - New York, November 20, ?1956. #10 - 13: Ray Charles: Same personnel as above, but Quincy Jones & Ernie Wilkins, arr; Ray Charles, arr - New York, November 26, 1956. #14 - 17: Ray Charles: Ray Charles, voc, p, arr; Joe Bridgewater, John Hunt, tp; David “Fathead” Newman, as, ts; Emmett Dennis, bs; Roosevelt “Whiskey” Sheffield, b; Bill Peeples, d; Jerry Wexler, tamb; Mary Ann Fisher & The Cookies (Margie Hendrix, Dorothy Jones, Ethel “Darlene” McRae) backing voc.- New York, September 27, 1956.

02. Early Years - Ray Charles: Unreleased This album presents restored and remastered outtakes from recordings for Lauderdale's Down Beat and Swing Time record labels.
  1. Honey, Honey [False Starts]
  2. I'm Glad for Your Sake [Take 1]
  3. Jack, She's on the Ball [False Start]
  4. Jack, She's on the Ball [Incomplete Take]
  5. Baby Won't You Please Come Home [Take 1]
  6. Sitting on Top of the World [Take 1]
  7. Ain't That Fine [False Start]
  8. Ain't That Fine [Take 1]
  9. I Wonder Who's Kissing Her Now? [Take 1]
  10. All to Myself Alone [Extended Version]
  11. Blues Before Sunrise [Take 4]
  12. A Sentimental Blues [Take 1]
  13. I'm Glad for Your Sake [Take 2]
  14. Baby Won't You Please Come Home [Incomplete Take]
  15. Sitting on Top of the World [Take 4]
  16. I Wonder Who's Kissing Her Now? [Take 3]
  17. Blues Before Sunrise [Take 5]
  18. A Sentimental Blues [Take 3] 
Album: 1949 - 1953 (2006). Night Train B000EBGFG8. Aaron Fuchs (Reissue Producer), Moses Nagel (Audio Restoration), Art Shifrin (Audio Restoration).

03. Early Years - Really Unreleased
In September 2011 a series of original 33-1/3 (!) rpm 16" acetate LP discs from 1949-1950 were offered up for sale on Ebay, constituting the earliest studio recordings by Ray Charles for Swing Time records. The discs entail complete recording sessions - including false starts, count-offs, alternative takes, and copies of what later became master tapes. A number of the alternative complete takes have never been released.

The recordings include takes of: Blues Before Sunrise, Sentimental Blues, How Long Blues, I Love You, Confession Blues, I'm Glad For Your Sake, I Wonder Who’s Kissing Her Now, I'm Glad For Your Sake, Honey Honey, Baby Won't You Please Come Home, She's On The Ball, Sitting On Top Of The World, Ain't That Fine, All To Myself Alone.

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